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Fossilised tooth of Neanderthal child found just 400km from Cairo

Fossilised tooth of Neanderthal child found just 400km from Cairo

The fossilised tooth of a Neanderthal child found in a cave near Jerusalem could be proof our cousins made it into Africa as Cairo is just 400km away,

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The fossilised tooth of a Neanderthal child found in a cave near Jerusalem could be proof our cousins made it into Africa as Cairo is just 400km away, study claims.

Archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute re-examined the fossil record from Shuqba Cave – 28km northwest of Jerusalem – including a child’s tooth.

The tooth was discovered in the cave in the 1920s and sat in a private collection for most of the 20th century until it was donated to the Natural History Museum in 2001.

Experts were able to determine the tooth belonged to a Neanderthal aged between seven and 12, raising questions about the history of hominin occupation of the area.

Before this study there was no evidence that Neanderthals  – an extinct hominin species that lived in Eurasia until 40,000 years ago – had ever lived in Africa.

The tooth was discovered in the cave in the 1920s and sat in a private collection for most of the 20th century until it was donated to the Natural History Museum in 2001

The tooth was discovered in the cave in the 1920s and sat in a private collection for most of the 20th century until it was donated to the Natural History Museum in 2001

The tooth was discovered in the cave in the 1920s and sat in a private collection for most of the 20th century until it was donated to the Natural History Museum in 2001

Before this study there was no evidence that Neanderthals - an extinct hominin species that lived in Eurasia until 40,000 years ago - had ever lived in Africa. Stock image

Before this study there was no evidence that Neanderthals - an extinct hominin species that lived in Eurasia until 40,000 years ago - had ever lived in Africa. Stock image

Before this study there was no evidence that Neanderthals – an extinct hominin species that lived in Eurasia until 40,000 years ago – had ever lived in Africa. Stock image

Scientists discover a single gene alteration that may have separated modern humans from predecessors 

One single gene alteration in the brains of modern humans may be all that separates us from our extinct Neanderthal cousins, study shows.

Researchers catalogued differences between the genomes of modern humans and those of Neanderthals.

They found 61 genes that were different, with one – NOVA1 – the key to what makes us ‘modern humans’ because it influences other genes during early brain development. 

The researchers used the discovery to create a ‘mini brain’ that mimics a Neanderthal mind with stem cells. 

This enabled them to create a direct comparison with modern humans.

They found that the ‘Neanderthal-ized’ brain organoid ‘looked very different’ to that of a modern human, with a distinctly different shape and different protein functions.

This single genetic alteration could explain modern capabilities in social behaviour, language, adaptation, creativity and use of technology, the team from the University of California San Diego explained.

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Chris Stringer, a human evolution expert at the Natural History Museum, involved in the new discovery, said there were ‘two fascinating aspects’ to the find. 

‘Firstly, we have speculated for a long time whether Neanderthals ever got to Africa. Shuqba is just a few hundred miles from Africa, so this finding really adds to the possibility that they did make it there.

‘Secondly, the stone tools found there were thought to be the product of modern humans,’ Stringer said, adding it looks like Neanderthals also used those tools. 

‘This tooth reflects long term occupation rather than sporadic visits, it’s likely that these kinds of tools were made by Neanderthals as well,’ he said. 

As well as being the most southerly example of Neanderthal occupation, it is also the first site discovered where there are both Neanderthal and modern humans.

This is the first time fossils of both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals have been discovered within the same region – marking it as a potential mixing ground.

‘Up to now we have no direct evidence of a Neanderthal presence in Africa,’ said Professor Stringer.

‘But the southerly location of Shuqba, only about 400 km from Cairo, should remind us that they may have even dispersed into Africa at times.’ 

Homo sapiens and Neanderthals shared the use of a wide range of stone tool technologies – but the Nubian Levallosi technology had been thought to be exclusively used by modern humans until now.

This information was used to help identify sites exclusively populated by Homo sapiens – but Neanderthals now appear to have used the same technique. 

Dr Jimbob Blinkhorn of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and lead author of the paper, said sites like this are still a rarity, 

The tooth was discovered in the cave in the 1920s and sat in a private collection for most of the 20th century until it was donated to the Natural History Museum in 2001

The tooth was discovered in the cave in the 1920s and sat in a private collection for most of the 20th century until it was donated to the Natural History Museum in 2001

The tooth was discovered in the cave in the 1920s and sat in a private collection for most of the 20th century until it was donated to the Natural History Museum in 2001

Experts were able to determine the tooth belonged to a Neanderthal aged between seven and 12, raising questions about the history of hominin occupation of the area

Experts were able to determine the tooth belonged to a Neanderthal aged between seven and 12, raising questions about the history of hominin occupation of the area

Experts were able to determine the tooth belonged to a Neanderthal aged between seven and 12, raising questions about the history of hominin occupation of the area

‘Sites with both hominin fossils directly associated with stone tool assemblages remain a rarity – the study of both is critical to evaluate hominin occupations of Shuqba Cave and its place in the landscape.’ 

Shuqba Cave was first excavated in the spring of 1928 by Dorothy Garrod, who reported a rich assemblage of animal bones and Mousterian-style stone tools cemented in breccia deposits, often concentrated in well-marked hearths. 

She also identified a large, unique human molar. However, the specimen was kept in a private collection for most of the 20th century, prohibiting comparative studies using modern methods. 

A tooth dug up 17 miles from Jerusalem has been identified as belonging to a nine year-old Neanderthal child. The molar marks the southernmost known range of our primitive cousin

A tooth dug up 17 miles from Jerusalem has been identified as belonging to a nine year-old Neanderthal child. The molar marks the southernmost known range of our primitive cousin

A tooth dug up 17 miles from Jerusalem has been identified as belonging to a nine year-old Neanderthal child. The molar marks the southernmost known range of our primitive cousin

Photos of Nubian Levallois cores associated with Neanderthal fossils. This is the first time they've been found in direct association with Neanderthal fossils, which suggests we can't make a simple link between this technology and Homo sapiens

Photos of Nubian Levallois cores associated with Neanderthal fossils. This is the first time they've been found in direct association with Neanderthal fossils, which suggests we can't make a simple link between this technology and Homo sapiens

Photos of Nubian Levallois cores associated with Neanderthal fossils. This is the first time they’ve been found in direct association with Neanderthal fossils, which suggests we can’t make a simple link between this technology and Homo sapiens

Shuqba Cave: A site of ancient archaeological significance

Shuqba Cave was first excavated in the spring of 1928 by Dorothy Garrod, a pioneering female archaeologist.

It is located on the norther bank of Wadi en-Natuf, about a 28km northwest of Jarusalem. 

Garrod reported a rich assemblage of animal bones and Mousterian-style stone tools cemented in breccia deposits, often concentrated in well-marked hearths. 

She also identified a large, unique human molar. 

However, the specimen was kept in a private collection for most of the 20th century, prohibiting comparative studies using modern methods. 

The area has been added to the UNESCO ‘tentative list’ for possible world heritage sites.

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The recent re-identification of the tooth at the Natural History Museum in London has led to new detailed work on the Shuqba collections.

‘We’ve examined the size, shape and both the external and internal 3D structure of the tooth, and compared that to Holocene and Pleistocene Homo sapiens and Neanderthal specimens,’ said Clément Zanolli, from Université de Bordeaux.

‘This has enabled us to clearly characterise the tooth as belonging to an approximately 9 year old Neanderthal child,’ says Zanolli, adding ‘Shuqba marks the southernmost extent of the Neanderthal range known to date.’  

Illustrations of the stone tool collections from Shuqba hinted at the presence of Nubian Levallois technology so the team reinvestigated the museum collection. 

‘In the end, we identified many more artefacts produced using the Nubian Levallois methods than we had anticipated,’ says Blinkhorn. 

‘This is the first time they’ve been found in direct association with Neanderthal fossils, which suggests we can’t make a simple link between this technology and Homo sapiens.’

‘Southwest Asia is a dynamic region in terms of hominin demography, behaviour and environmental change,’ adds Simon Blockley, of Royal Holloway.

The region ‘may be particularly important to examine interactions between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens,’ the study co-author added.

‘This study highlights the geographic range of Neanderthal populations and their behavioural flexibility, but also issues a timely note of caution that there are no straightforward links between particular hominins and specific stone tools.’  

The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports

A close relative of modern humans, Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 40,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before moving across to Europe around 300,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia around 48,000 years ago.  

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor -  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor -  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor –  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.

In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.

A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.

It now seems likely that Neanderthals had told, buried their dead, painted and even interbred with humans.   

They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.

They are thought to have hunted on land and done some fishing. However, they went extinct around 40,000 years ago following the success of Homo sapiens in Europe.  

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This post first appeared on Dailymail.co.uk

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